Durban – Four years after a supposed R40 million facelift, Maritzburg United’s rented home has a plan for completion. The Harry Gwala Stadium currently has one covered grandstand, one open stand and nothing behind the goalposts.
It is a curious sight to visitors, and its lack of structure has long been a source of embarrassment for followers of football in the city. It has also resulted in the “Team of Choice” missing out on a proper atmosphere whenever the weather in Maritzburg looks suspect.
But now, nearly four years after the 2010 World Cup training venue was touched up for the world’s best players to utilise as a training venue, there is hope that the rest of the puzzle will be completed, to the tune of R128m.
The initial refurbishment contract was for a full stadium, but as tenders tend to go, the funds disappeared with the job half done.
The Msunduzi Municipality, not without its fair share of issues over the last few years, has now put forward a proposal to complete the stadium, and Maritzburg United’s commercial manager, Younus Kadodia, said it was a welcome move.
“It will be massive for us as a club, as well as the city. The crowds have still turned up over the last few seasons, but I am sure it will be a totally different atmosphere once the stadium is complete,” he said.
The completion of the rest of the stands – with, hopefully, a roof on each stand – will also see the ground able to take advantage of the pulling power of the Big Three: Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns.
In previous seasons, United has taken these marquee matches to Durban or Port Elizabeth, to cash in on the larger crowds available at the modern stadiums. But that now looks set to change.
“From a security perspective, everything will have to be jacked up to accommodate the larger crowds. But nothing is confirmed yet, and we await the municipality to get back to us,” Kadodia said.
The Harry Gwala Stadium was bouncing again on Wednesday night, as United held on for a 2-1 win over Mpumalanga Black Aces.
Coach Ernst Middendorp has had to perform his annual rebuilding routine after his best players from last season – including sharpshooter Cuthbert Malajila – were snapped up, and debutant Ayanda Nkosi repaid the German’s faith in him by slotting in a goal after just three minutes.
The lively home crowd, who love a local hero, voiced their dissatisfaction when Middendorp substituted the youngster soon after the break, as Aces got back into the game.
“You know, people need to understand that I am the coach for a reason,” the explosive German snapped. “I know what I am doing, and the boy had cramp at half-time,” he added, having turned around to the crowd to show his own displeasure at their booing.
“But it wasn’t the whole crowd. It was just a small percentage,” he pointed out, before praising the faithful that have been on the rollercoaster with his team over the last three seasons.
If the municipality plays their cards right, Middendorp and his charges may have an even bigger audience to entertain by next year.